The original generation Galaxy Note I played with was an AT&T model, and as a result was based around the same platform (I call a platform the combination of SoC and baseband) as the Skyrocket, which was AT&T’s SGS2 with LTE. That platform was Qualcomm’s Fusion 2 chipset, the very popular combination of a APQ8060 SoC (45nm dual core Scorpion at 1.5 GHz with Adreno 220 graphics) and MDM9x00 for baseband (Qualcomm’s 45nm first generation multimode LTE solution). The US-bound Galaxy S 3 variants were built around the successor of that platform, which was Qualcomm’s MSM8960 SoC (28nm dual core Krait at 1.5 GHz with Adreno 225 graphics and an onboard 2nd gen LTE baseband). The result was quick time to market with the latest and greatest silicon, improvements to performance, onboard LTE without two modems, and lower power consumption.

The Galaxy Note 2 does something different, and finally brings Samsung’s Exynos line of SoCs into devices bound for the USA where air interfaces are a combination of LTE, WCDMA, and CDMA2000. It’s clear that the Note 2 was on a different development cycle, and this time the standalone 28nm LTE baseband I’ve been talking about forever was available for use in the Galaxy Note 2, that part is MDM9x15, same as what’s in the iPhone 5, Optimus G, One X+, and a bunch of other upcoming handsets. If you haven’t read our other reviews where I’ve talked about this, the reason is that MDM9x15 is now natively voice enabled (MDM9x00 was not unless you ran with a Fusion platform), smaller, and lower power than its predecessor. The result is that there’s finally a multimode FDD-LTE, TDD-LTE, WCDMA (up to DC-HSPA+), EVDO (up to EVDO Rev.B) and TD-SCDMA baseband out there which doesn’t require going with a two chip solution. I could go on for pages about how this is primarily an engineering decision at this point, but the availability of MDM9x15 is why we see OEMs starting to finally ship handsets based around SoCs other than Qualcomm’s and also include LTE at the same time.

Anyhow, for a lot of people this will be the first time experiencing Samsung’s own current Exynos 4 flagship, Exynos 4412, which is of course quad core ARM Cortex A9s at a maximum of 1.6 GHz alongside ARM Mali–400MP4 built on Samsung’s 32nm HK-MG process. To the best of my knowledge, the Note 2 continues to use a 2x32 bit LPDDR2 memory interface, same as the international Galaxy S 3, though PCDDR3 is also a choice for Exynos 4412.

I’ve put together a table with specifications of the Note 2 and some other recent devices for comparison.

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 5 Samsung Galaxy S 3 (USA) Samsung Galaxy Note (USA) Samsung Galaxy Note 2
Height 123.8 mm (4.87") 136.6 mm (5.38" ) 146.8 mm 151.1 mm
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 70.6 mm (2.78") 82.9 mm 80.5 mm
Depth 7.6 mm (0.30") 8.6 mm (0.34") 9.7 mm 9.4 mm
Weight 112 g (3.95 oz) 133g (4.7 oz) 178 g 180 g
CPU 1.3 GHz Apple A6 (Dual Core Apple Swift) 1.5 GHz MSM8960 (Dual Core Krait) 1.5 GHz APQ8060 (Dual Core Scorpion) 1.6 GHz Samsung Exynos 4412 (Quad Core Cortex A9)
GPU PowerVR SGX 543MP3 Adreno 225 Adreno 220 Mali-400MP4
RAM 1 GB LPDDR2 2 GB LPDDR2 1 GB LPDDR2 2 GB LPDDR2
NAND 16, 32, or 64 GB integrated 16/32 GB NAND with up to 64 GB microSDXC 16 GB NAND with up to 32 GB microSD 16/32/64 GB NAND (?) with up to 64 GB microSDXC
Camera 8 MP with LED Flash + 1.2MP front facing 8 MP with LED Flash + 1.9 MP front facing 8 MP with LED Flash + 2 MP front facing 8 MP with LED Flash + 1.9 MP front facing
Screen 4" 1136 x 960 LED backlit LCD 4.8" 1280x720 HD SAMOLED 5.3" 1280 x 800 HD SAMOLED 5.5" 1280 x 720 HD SAMOLED
Battery Internal 5.45 Whr Removable 7.98 Whr Removable 9.25 Whr Removable 11.78 Whr

The Galaxy Note 2 also is one of the first handsets on the market other than Nexus devices to ship running Android 4.1. This puts it at a definite advantage in some tests as we’ll show in a moment, both due to improvements from project butter and what appear to be even newer Mali–400 drivers. I pulled the Note 1 out of my drawer and updated it to Android 4.0.1 and ran all the same tests again.

First up are some of the usual JavaScript performance tests which are run in the stock browser. Anand added a few in, and personally I think we’ve got almost an abundance of JavaScript performance emphasis right now. Again this is strongly influenced by the V8 JIT (Just In Time Compilation) library bundled with the stock browser on Android. OEMs spend a lot of time here optimizing V8 to the nuances of their particular architecture which can make a substantial difference in scores.

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9.1 - Stock Browser

Mozilla Kraken Benchmark

Google Octane Benchmark v1

BrowserMark

The usual disclosure here is that Android benchmarking is still a non-deterministic beast due to garbage collection, and I’m still not fully satisfied with everything that is available out there, but we have to make do with what we’ve got for the moment.

Next up is GLBenchmark 2.5.1 which now includes a beefier gameplay simulation test called Egypt HD alongside the previous Egypt test which is now named Egypt Classic. Offscreen resolution gets a bump to 1080p as well.

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt Classic

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt Classic (Offscreen 1080p)

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt HD

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt HD (Offscreen 1080p)

Here we see Mali–400 MP4 performing basically the same as I saw in the International Galaxy S 3 which is no surprise — it is after all the same SoC. Other than a slight bump in the Egypt Classic offscreen performance numbers, there aren’t any surprises. We see Exynos 4412 putting up a good fight, but Adreno 320 in APQ8064 is still something to look out for on the horizon. I'd run Taiji as well but we'd basically just see vsync at this point. 

Vellamo 2.0.1 is a new version of the previously well-received Vellamo test developed by Qualcomm initially for in-house performance regression testing and checkin, later adopted by OEMs for their own testing, and finally released onto the Google Play Store. This is the first time the 2.0 version of Vellamo has made an appearance here, and after vetting it and spending time on the phone with its makers I feel just the same way about 2.0 as I did 1.0. There’s still the disclosure that this is Qualcomm’s benchmark, and that stigma will only go away after the app is open sourced for myself and others to code review, but from what deconstruction of the APK I’ve done, and further inspection of the included jS, I’m confident there’s no blatant cheating going on, it isn’t worth it.

Vellamo Benchmark - 2.0

Vellamo Benchmark - 2.0

Vellamo 2’s biggest new thing is the inclusion of a new ‘metal’ test which, as the name implies, includes some native tests. This is C code compiled with just the standard android compiler and -o2 optimization flag into both ARMv7 and x86 code. There’s Dhrystone for integer benchmarking, Linpack (native), Branch-K, Stream 5.9, RamJam, and a storage subtest.

Exynos 4412 and Android 4.1 is definitely a potent combination, which puts it close to the top if not at the top in a ton of CPU bound tests. My go-to application with lots of threading is still Chrome for Android, which regularly lights up four core devices completely. Even though our testing is done in the stock browser (since this almost always has the faster, platform-specific V8 library) my subjective tests are in Chrome, and the Note 2 feels very quick.

Using a 'Phablet' Battery Life Testing
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  • StormyParis - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    It's really a matter of taste, and your own size. I'm 6" with large hands, and frankly, adjusting from a 4.3" HD2 to a GNote1 took me half a day.

    I got the same snide remarks I got about my HD2, so I'm sure the fashion police will be able to eat their words with the same gusto in a year or two when that size becomes standard and accepted. I'm using a headset all the time anyway, so I don't get the "shovel stuck to ear" look too often.

    The Gnote fits in my shirt and front pants pockets (I'm too afraid of sitting on it if I put it in the back), I can handle it one-handed (barely). My asian friends can't say the same though ^^
    Reply
  • cserwin - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Not sure if by 6" you meant 6', or you are not talking about height...

    ಠ_ಠ.
    Reply
  • Denithor - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Hahahahaha!!

    Excellent...
    Reply
  • SilthDraeth - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    LOL Reply
  • GTRagnarok - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    So I should consider the size of my package when deciding if I want a Samsung Note. Reply
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    It's all about what you're comfortable with having in your hand... Reply
  • Arbie - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    +10 Reply
  • junglist724 - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    Hmmm, I'm asian, 5'10" but I have really long fingers(Great for those mandatory music lessons every asian american has to take). I have no problem using a screen that size in one hand for most tasks. Can't wait to pick up the gnote 2 on AT&T. Reply
  • lilmoe - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    It's not only about the size of your hands. Actually, my wife (yes, with very small hands) was eyeing the Note 2 ever since it was announced. Her love for it grew each time she saw a video review or one of those Samsung promotional ads.

    I've tried to convince her otherwise countless times, since I thought it would be unpractical and very hard to manage, especially since her previous Galaxy S2 would slip from her hand and drop on regular basis.

    She has one now, for almost a week. She describes the device in 5 words; "best phone she ever owned". She loves the screen, battery life, functionality, S-Pen, and call quality/reception. She doesn't want a tablet anymore, I guess that says something.

    There's something about the Galaxy Note series that makes you either love it or hate it, and for those who love it, they do with a passion. I personally think it's a great phone, but it would have to be the ONLY phone on my carrier for me to consider one.... Oh well, at least the device have taken a good chunk of her "free time" that otherwise would have me in focus, lol.
    Reply
  • StormyParis - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - link

    As a 44yr old, I'm getting my phones purely on screen size (and still zooming in quite a bit...). It's nice to see a reviewer able to put himself in others' shoes for once ^^ Screen legibility in bright light *and* at night, for which AMOLED is very good, are also important. LCDs glow in the dark in the worst way.

    I have a Note1, and I'm so happy with it I think I'll skip the 2, especially since the 3 should come around ext summer. Review such as this one make me hitch, though.
    Reply

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